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Guns Awry

Kent Board of Education Chairman Paul Cortese

Kent Board of Education Chairman Paul Cortese

On an unseasonably warm February evening, the Kent Board of Education met to listen to several fifth and sixth graders give declarative speeches as part of their enrichment program. Then, Business Manager Sam Herrick presented the budget for Region 1 which includes the high school, pupil services for the region and the central office of the Superintendent of Schools. Kent’s share of the Region 1 budget will increase by $125,000 due the greater proportion of students. Herrick also presented the design of the renovation project at the high school. But the entire evening was colored by the influx of media, both printed press and television, caused by the Board of Selectmen suggesting that the Board of Education consider arming the teachers with guns in Kent Center School.

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Kent Board of Education

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It is disappointing that the Kent Board of Selectmen have not sought to work cooperatively with the Kent Center School Board of Education but have attempted to circumvent our process for addressing matters and adding items to our agenda for consideration.

This is particularly true when the proposal from the Kent Board of Selectmen concerning the possible arming of teachers and staff is in conflict with Kent Center School Board of Education policy and contrary to statutory requirements concerning school security personnel carrying firearms.

The Kent Center School Board of Education is not in support of bringing firearms into Kent Center School and should we, in the future, wish to consider such a proposal we will approach the issue thoughtfully, fully engaging the public, and being sure to follow both the law and best practices. The security of our school and students deserves no less.

Paul M. Cortese

Chairman, Kent

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Genesis of an Educational Complaint

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In the middle of last year, the seven Boards of Education in Region 1 signed a Joint Employment Agreement for the Superintendent of Schools. That contract was the net result of nearly two years of negotiation and democratic process. However, some of the political officials of Falls Village disagreed with that contract so vehemently that they filed a formal complaint with the Connecticut Board of Education as well as a Freedom of Information complaint. So far the legal wrangles have cost the Town of Canaan about $42,000 and the Region 1 Board of Education, about $23,000. And the process has not yet ended; what a waste of money. For those who can’t stand legal arguments, stop here. What follows is a layman’s summary of the legal process.

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Changing a Culture

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Sometimes a Board of Education backs into learning about education. At their regular meeting, the Region 1 Board of Education found themselves committing to training through the Lighthouse Project from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE). Two representatives from CABE had reviewed the project, which provides lessons for Board members to take positive steps to improve student achievement. The Board also decided to spend $85,000 on electronics from this year’s surplus rather than include the expense in next year’s budget. Further, they approved a regional calendar which includes several late arrival days for the high school. And they heard public comment about improving their management of the budget process and handling the hire of a new Superintendent.

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Pandering For Prattle

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Sometimes a Board of Education manages a budget; sometimes the budget manages them. This week the Region 1 Board of Education watched as the budget was increased from roughly 1.7% to well over 2% with nary a motion or vote in sight. Chairman Andrea Downs had demanded that Carl Gross, Director of Pupil Services, restore a position that he had partially cut. He obliged. Not one of the other Board members spoke up. Business Manager Sam Herrick and Housatonic Principal Jose Martinez had decided to reduce costs by eliminating an underutilized adult program; Downs objected. They will look into it. Board member Jonathan Moore again noted that supplies kept increasing even with increasing technology. The administrators will look into it. And once again, Housatonic is headed toward being the most expensive public high school in the State of Connecticut. Sometimes a budget is totally mismanaged by a severe lack of action.

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Separation

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Earlier this month, the All Boards Chairs (ABC) committee met to go over several issues of regional importance. They finally reached agreement on the revised policy that is to govern shared services (7000 series) and sent it on to the local Boards for approval. They discussed the latest revision to the budget for Pupil Services. With help from Assistant Superintendent Pam Vogel, they reviewed the increase in early dismissal days for professional development (teacher training). They agreed to consider an increase in technical support for the region. Superintendent Patricia Chamberlain reported back the possibility of a middle school at Housatonic Valley Regional High School (HVRHS). And they took the first step in the search for a new Superintendent: calling Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) for help.

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The Hidden

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Earlier this week, the Region 1 Board of Education and the All Boards Chairs (ABC) committee met to discuss the budget for Housatonic Valley Regional High School (HVRHS). The budget for 2016-2017 proposed by Principal Jose Martinez was $8,825,646, an increase of 0.51%. Several teaching positions have been reduced over the last year, amounting to 1.4 equivalent teaching positions (FTE). One sport, wrestling, will be discontinued, and football may be co-oped with another school. Two department chairs will be merged into one. This is the ongoing response to declining enrollment. The Board also discussed reducing the use of hardcopy supplies like paper, printers, and copiers now that the school has invested so heavily in technology; these supplies are not lower in the budget. Board member Jonathan Moore also suggested reducing the overall budget increase to 1.5% from 1.91%. Meanwhile, Chairman Andrea Downs wanted $15,000 added for a Superintendent search; Superintendent Patricia Chamberlain is retiring at the end of next year.

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Early Budget Warmings

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On Wednesday evening, both the Region 1 Board of Education and the All Boards Chairs (ABC) committee met to discuss the first pass at a regional budget. They reviewed the budgets for the Regional School Services Center (RSSC) and Pupil Services (Special Education). The first pass of a budget for Housatonic Valley Regional High school (HVRHS) was included but not reviewed. The RSSC budget increased by 7.91%; the budget for Pupil Services increased by 3.27%. The overall budget was up by 1.90% or $293,790 with most of the increase coming from Pupil Services. The changes for town assessments was volatile as usual, with Canaan and Kent showing larger increases.

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Saga of Education Capital

Credit: Kent Historical Society

Credit: Kent Historical Society

The Kent Board of Education did not meet in December, but the Board of Finance wanted a capital plan. The BOF did not ask for it, but they wanted it all the same. So Board of Education Chairman Paul Cortese asked the building committee to provide the plan from the previous year with one updated cost estimate. The reception was chilly; the Board of Finance decided to wait for the Board of Education to vote on a new plan. At their meeting this week, the Board of Education voted on the changes. The updated plan for Kent Center School (KCS) included splitting a window replacement project into three parts over the next five years, sticking with a renovation of the oldest part of Kent Center School six years from now, and replacing the next section of roofs at their 20 year anniversary seven years from now.

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Staffing Conundrum

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At the first regular meeting of the New Year, the Region 1 Board of Education listened quietly and heard very little. (Budget season starts next week.) This month, Principal Jose Martinez was supposed to present his plan for long term staffing in the face of declining enrollment. He demurred. Instead, the Physical Education department asked for 0.3 of an increase in staff for classes designed to accommodate disabled and special education students. The technology committee in Housatonic will be restarted. The athletic committee met, and decided to consider the long term effects of declining enrollment. And an updated (and more detailed) job description was accepted for the Administrative Assistant to the Supervisor of Special Education.

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